Cheetah-tracking gets visitors up close to free-roaming cats at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge.
In addition to ostrich farm tours, one of the town’s principal attractions is the Buffelsdrift Game Lodge. The property comprises 3 000ha of wilderness in the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains. Just a few minutes from the centre of town, visitors can sign up for a variety of animal experiences more commonly associated with parks and reserves further north. Along with general game drives, Buffelsdrift hosts dedicated experiences involving lion, elephant and meerkats.
Even the lodge building, situated at a five-hectare “water hole” is thatched in typical safari bushveld style. But there’s nothing out of place about Buffelsdrift. In days gone by, the animals on the property were abundant in the region. It’s still the case with meerkats and cheetah, which now also form part of the Buffelsdrift offering.
For more information on Buffelsdrift Game Lodge
The experience is priced at R1 175pp
Since April 2020, the lodge gets visitors up close to its cheetahs, which roam and hunt freely. Visitors can sign up to join an excursion to track and locate the cheetah.
That description of “free-roaming” is important, says marketing and conferencing manager Lucius Fourie. Animal experiences of this kind are intensely monitored by conservation authorities while ethical treatment of animals and conservation have become non-negotiable for many international travellers.
Buffelsdrift Lodge is part of the conservation NGO and PBO, Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) while also funding conservation in the area through its own foundation. Where the cheetahs are concerned, Buffelsdrift’s breeding programme subscribes to the EWT’s meta-population project, which encompasses some 54 farms across South Africa.
There are two cheetahs at Buffelsdrift – the maximum to accommodate their large home ranges on a property of its size. The excursion to see them takes around three to four hours and has a minimum age-limit of 12 years and height of 1.2m.
There’s but a basic list of requirements:
- Comfortable shoes? Check!
- Long trousers? Check!
- Hat? Check!
- Suncream? Check!
- Waterbottle? Check!
The experience gets underway early morning with a video presentation about Buffelsdrift’s conservation initiatives.
Guests then set out in a game vehicle accompanied by two guides, headed for Buffelsdrift’s adjoining 1 500ha farm.
This segregated property is home to the cheetahs as well as zebra, giraffe and a handful of buck species while more dangerous species, such as buffalo, are kept at the farm surrounding the lodge buildings.
The location of the cheetah is provided by tracking collars and once near enough, the vehicles are left at the roadside. It’s a single file from there with a guide at both ends as the group makes its way through the bush. The walk is part of the experience and there’s plenty of time for questions and insight from the guides about plants, birds and tracks.
Then, the guide at the head of the peloton signals. The animal is just up ahead. Taking its lead from the front, the group inches forward through the veld until just 20 or 30m from the prize. It’s a spectacular and humbling sight - a wild and unencumbered cat in its natural habitat.
In fact, the cheetahs are such prolific hunters that Buffelsdrift supplements its numbers of springbok by around 120 animals every six months.
As the world recovers from the pandemic and tourism return to some semblance of normality, there’s perhaps something poetic about Oudtshoorn’s attractions - where birds have been the stars, but cats are now too.